The first political biography I read debunked a Conservative Prime Minister’s reputation, and helped to change the way he is remembered. Will the same prove true of Lord Ashcroft’s biography of David Cameron, the serialisation of which begins in the Daily Mail today?
The paper’s front page splash headline reads “Revenge! How PM’s snub to billionaire, who funded the Tories for years, sparked the most explosive political book of the decade.” Above it, the inset box, which is almost as large, bears the words: “drugs, debauchery and the book that lays Dave bare”.
In its online version, the Mail splits its coverage of “Call Me Dave”, as the book is titled, into five parts:
- “Drugs, and the making of an extraordinary Prime Minister: For years rumours have dogged him. Now, the truth about the shockingly decadent Oxford days of the gifted Bullingdon boy.”
- “A broken promise and why I wrote this book: Lord Ashcroft reveals how he went from supporter to critic of Cameron.”
- “Cameron and an obscene act with a dead pig’s head! How future PM took part in outrageous initiation ceremony after joining Oxford dining society.”
- “How Cameron’s own spin doctor called him a posh t***er: Lord Ashcroft reveals what Tory mastermind really thought of PM.”
- “The tragic child who made Dave human: Cameron said Ivan’s diagnosis hit him ‘like a freight train’… but he and Samantha found inner strength to get through it.”
- “A loyal friend, but never cross him: Richard Kay says Cameron must wonder why he made an enemy of Lord Ashcroft.”
A few snapshot responses, based on the extracts, their presentation – and the likely reaction.
- The point Labour is likely to pursue from the book is Lord Ashcroft’s claim that the Prime Minister was aware of his non-dom tax status as early as 2009. Cameron has said that he was not aware until 2010.
- Although Downing Street says that it won’t be commenting on the book on the record, it is certain to argue off the record that the book contains no smoking gun or silver bullet. The “member of Cameron’s social circle who recalls [cocaine] being in open circulation at a dinner party in the Camerons’ home” is clearly unwilling to be identified, and there is no photograph of the Prime Minister inserting his penis into the mouth of a dead pig. These and other claims in the book also raise the wider question of the degree to which voters care, if at all, about what politicians did before they were politicians.
- In his account of why he wrote the book, Lord Ashcroft criticises Cameron’s record as Prime Minister, but adds that “my own particular beef with him is more personal”. He says that Cameron reneged on a commitment to give him a role after 2010 that would not have been “not an insignificant one”. None the less, he writes, “my new book about Cameron is not about settling scores”. The Mail has done nothing to support this view in its presentation of the serialisation which opens, as noted, with the word “Revenge” featuring as the biggest word in its splash headline.
- The extract about the tragic death of Ivan, the Prime Ministrer’s disabled son, underscores the authors’ claim of writing “an objective study”. (The book’s co-author is Isabel Oakeshott, the former political editor of the Sunday Times.)
That first biography I read was Blake’s Disraeli. The next one will be this new study of our present Prime Minister, co-authored as it is by ConservativeHome’s proprietor. Whatever similarities and differences there may be between the two books, one of the latter strikes me before I have even begun – namely that, when Blake penned his work, Disraeli had been dead for the best part of a hundred years…